Why EJA supports a Voice to Parliament

As environmental lawyers, we know the extraordinary power of the law.

The power to grant rights, justice and a legal voice.

Or to silence and dispossess.

We see the consequences of this every day in our work.

That’s why we believe it’s an important time for EJA to join the national conversation about Australia’s colonial past, the ongoing injustice, and our shared vision for the future.

It’s time have honest and courageous conversations about the hard truths in our past. The genocide. The Frontier Wars. The stolen land and stolen children. The ongoing injustice and discrimination.

It’s time to take decisive action to move forward together.

Later this year, Australians will vote on whether to change the Federal Constitution to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.

Incorporating the Voice into the Constitution establishes a national First Peoples’ institution that sits above the ordinary machinery and vagaries of government. There have been other similar national institutions, such as ATSIC, but these were susceptible to abolition by Federal Parliament. That has occurred repeatedly.

The Voice is one pillar of the reform program proposed by the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2016. The other pillars are treaty, truth-telling, and sovereignty. At the national level, no movement has occurred on the latter three elements.

As environmental lawyers representing First Nations clients and seeing the injustice in the system, we believe far more ambitious and effective reform is needed. Certainly treaty. Resolving the co-existing sovereignties of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and the Crown. Setting real pathways to de-escalate and wind down structural forms of violence.

We recognise this is a challenging time for many First Nations people, and there is a wide range of views on what transformational change looks like, and how best to get there.

But soon, some 17 million people across Australia will vote in this referendum. A majority no vote would be a significant setback for First Nations justice.

In our view, a successful referendum outcome does not limit further change. It can enable other change. Incorporating the Voice into the Constitution is not an end but a further beginning. For non-Aboriginal Australians, it reflects, and is consistent with, a duty to come to terms with injustice and stop repressing or ignoring difficult realities.

As an ally organisation, we believe a resounding yes from people across Australia is an important part of achieving First Nations justice.

It has important legal and practical benefits:

  • Its existence would be enshrined in the nation’s foundational law and would be unalterable by governments
  • It would be a national vehicle for the views, advocacy and actions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Well-designed, it can be a key institution for organisation, mobilisation and expression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • It can be a foundation for achieving wider change and tackling issues common to First Nations communities.

As an ally organisation, we believe it is important to show support for First Nations people via this referendum, to win a resounding Yes, and build widespread public support for much more ambitious, transformative policy change to follow.

Voting Yes is an important step that will make much more possible.

– EJA Board and Co-CEOs